By James Mason
Last Friday, lifelong Bradford City fan Tony Cunningham was living life to the full. I sat laughing and reminiscing with him and other City supporters alongside former players at an event held to raise money for dementia. Tony was the first one to sign up to attend the event and one of the last to leave! He loved the banter, the company he was amongst, and all things Claret and Amber.
Little did any of us know what lay ahead.
Only hours later, Tony died suddenly after a fall at his home.
As a young man in his forties, Tony’s life has ended prematurely leaving no doubt more questions than answers as to why.
I’m sure Tony would have been at this week’s FA cup game with eager anticipation as well as Saturday’s match against Walsall. Sadly his absence will be noted by many but as a group of supporters it’s his family who our thoughts go out to.
As such, following on from the news of Tony’s passing, many of his friends and acquaintances from years of following City took to social media to share their memories of him and offer support to his family.
Below are just a few collated memories of Tony in the last week. There will be many more….
Graham Fawcett met Tony in 1997 as they both lived in London and have been friends ever since. “Tony was a big character in the London supporters club and like the others made me feel very welcome straight away. I remember one game we travelled to Southend. The sun was shining, Geoffrey (Richmond) put on free coaches and Edinho scored! It was a great day.
“A couple of years later we went to St Kitts with City and became great friends. We later sat together in the Bantams Bar sharing all the big games and good times (and lots of small games and bad times). Home and away, he was there as often as he could be, always making friends.
“Many, many times when we travelled up to Bradford from London in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tony would go missing on the train for ages and come back with stories of how he had met up with some Grimsby, Luton or Chelsea fans etc. He chatted to everybody. He always got on so well with them and made sure he shared the gospel of Bradford City.
“He was a great family man and will be massively missed and I can’t imagine being at VP without his smiling face welcoming me to the Fighting Cock or Record Cafe for a pre-match pint.”
Another close friend Les Hall recounts similar memories: “Tony was an essential ingredient of supporting Bradford City. I remember in particular many brilliant days with him following City and travelling enormous distances to witness both meaningless games, crucial 0-0 draws and astonishing victories!
“Tony was also a supporter of the city of Bradford as a whole. I got to know him particularly well following Marko Husak and I opening The Sparrow back in 2011. Tony was a great advocate for the change and regeneration of Bradford and he was always a pleasure to have in the bar.
“Most of all, though, Tony was a top bloke, an adoring father and a loving partner to my friend Emma. We will all miss this lovely man.”
Dave Pendleton travelled home and away with Tony for many years and remembers him fondly, “We shared a period of life when Tony and my lives were in flux. We’d often meet, sometimes planned, sometimes randomly, to chew the fat of life, or mull over Bradford City’s latest defeat. Those days, days that stretched into evenings, evenings that meandered into the early hours, created a strong bond that is unbreakable, even in death. There was always time for another and therefore it is almost impossible to believe that we’ve lost Tony. He’ll be sorely missed.”
Finally, his family collectively remember a much-loved brother, son, partner and father.
In a joint tribute, his sisters Helen and Katherine (with whom he was a twin), brother Matthew and partner Emma said: “Tony was known for his optimistic, ‘glass half full’ approach. We could be 3-0 down at half time, and in a seemingly hopeless situation, and Tony would proclaim that he had ‘seen some positives’ and that in his opinion, we were still in this, often adding that it ‘takes only one goal’ to turn things around.
“In fact, in all his time supporting City, it’s only this season that his optimism has waned slightly, but he was of course still confident we would avoid relegation! He carried this positive outlook beyond football, and it infected all whom he met.
“Tony was known on North Parade as ‘Tony wi’t kids’- that just sums him up- a wonderful dad to Molly, Charlie and George, a loving, caring partner to Emma, a fun loving brother, and simply ‘Uncle Tony’ to his eight nephews and nieces.
“A truly top bloke, he has left a huge gap in our lives and will be forever missed.”
It’s at times like this when a football club can be more than just 11 individuals kicking a ball around a grass pitch. Bradford City is a cohesive force. A social vehicle, perhaps, to pull people together through good times and bad. The tough and the tougher. As a club we know that only too well.
Winning is not so important any more. Football offers us a common interest and a set of values that we share with close family and friends and even strangers. People we recognise and nod at knowingly even if we don’t know their names.
Tony would have been that person to some of us. As such he was ‘one of us’ because he happened to wear the same coloured scarf. He was part of our extended family.
Supporting Bradford City, like all other clubs, offers a camaraderie and strength in numbers when it’s needed. It is quite powerful.
Tony won a bottle of champagne last week at the lunch and I remember giving him a big hug to thank him for coming to the event. I suggested he wait until the next big City win before he opened it to celebrate. He won’t get that opportunity now, but as a group of supporters maybe we should all raise a glass tonight to his spirit and celebrate a true member of our Bantams family.
To Tony, his family and friends we offer you our unwavering support and sympathy. He truly was a City Gent.